Your name: Deadline: Name of Scholarship: Date

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Michael Wakefield 12/01/05
Elder & Leemaur Publishers University Writing Scholarship

2/9/08

HYDROGEN: AN ALTERNATIVE FUEL

I believe hydrogen, the most abundant element in our known universe, is an alternative to oil that makes sense. It burns efficiently (up to 90%) and once consumed in a fuel cell, its byproduct is water (as opposed to carbon dioxide in a traditional gas combustion engine). In 2002, President George W. Bush launched his FreedomCAR initiative to promote hydrogen power research in vehicles. Over 200 million dollars yearly is available for research into making hydrogen powered vehicles a reality. General Motors is spending heavily on research into hydrogen-fueled cars and has prototypes in testing. GM is also investing over a billion dollars into building a refueling infrastructure for hydrogen cars (they have recently been advertising this fact in major magazines). Ford piloted a project with the State of Florida last year with 30 hydrogen-fueled cars. Hydrogen can also be used to heat homes where heating oil, electricity and natural gas are traditionally used. A compact hydrogen fuel cell from a vehicle in the future could generate more energy than the car needs. The fuel cell could then be transported from the vehicle to a home where excess energy can be used to power the home. There are many areas where there are commercial challenges to making

hydrogen energy a reality. I will list a few here. First, hydrogen fuel cells are currently too heavy. Vehicles require enough hydrogen for 300 to 400 mile capacity according to a typical consumers mindset and expectation. This requires the hydrogen to be compressed and the tank must be able to withstand the compression. This adds weight. Safety is also a consideration in consumer commercialization and adds extra weight to the tank for safety concerns. Second, hydrogen fuel cells cost more to manufacture than current combustion engines. The cost needs to come down for consumer commercialization. The cars should be less expensive as a whole to manufacture with less parts and subsequently less weight in the vehicle in the finished product. However, the majority of cost is in the hydrogen fuel cell and storage. Third, we need to generate the hydrogen. We need renewable sources of energy like solar and wind power in order to generate the amount of hydrogen needed on a national scale. Again, we have inefficiencies to overcome in solar and wind power generation. This is quite puzzling seeing that solar power has been commercially available for over 20-30 years. To me, hydrogen power makes sense. Hydrogen fuel cells, in particular, make the most sense with portability and dual purpose energy usage in the car and the home a possibility. An example of this reality is in a product that Time magazine recently announced as one of the Best Inventions 2005. The ENV hydrogen fuel cell bike has a portable hydrogen fuel cell that can power a motorcycle or removed and used to power a home or boat.

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